Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum 2018

Social Sustainability: Lessons from German Energy Transition

By Caroline Paul Kanjookaran

Transforming energy system toward more efficiency, energy saving, and renewable energies poses both challenges and opportunities. Although many changes are influenced by politics and economics, social involvement and people’s attention to these issues pays a crucial role in implementing sustainable innovations. Whether or not German energy transition (Energiewende) will be successful will depend on how well (or not) social sustainability objectives are handled. Despite the importance of these aims, till date, there has been no reliable knowledge base that gauges the attitudes, concepts of justice, and experience of different population groups with regards to the energy transformation process and the challenges, risks, and opportunities it presents. There remains a gap in studying how the population in Germany perceives and evaluates Energiewende and how they classify their own role in this transformation.

A pioneer in this field, Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) along with RWI, Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, conducted a panel survey of more than 7,500 households and presented the results with the Social Sustainability Barometer for the German Energiewende 2017. The cooperative framework considers itself a ‘think-do-rethink tank’. This means that they not only point out the deficits identified during the study, but also propose solutions to these problems to improve social reality.

Orange talks to Prof. Dr h.c. Ortwin Renn, the Scientific Director of IASS, to learn how they hope to achieve a greater social sustainability for the energy transition. “Our institute is highly concerned about the energy transformation processes, what they imply, and what they require,” Renn says, “One of the requirements is that transformations are really fair and just to those who are affected by it.” According to Prof. Dr. Renn, the institute has two primary goals; first is to research about the topic of energy and sustainability, and second is to inform politicians and collaborate with people working on the transition to ensure that these transformations are carried out competently, effectively, and fairly.

A booklet containing the core statements and summary of the key IASS findings has been published. A longer version is currently in the press, and there are further activities coming such as newspaper articles and events with politicians to spread awareness. This goes together with the main purpose of the research, which is to educate public about the positive impacts of energy transformation such as better life with more eco-quality and equality.

“The media can report about best practices to instill a feeling that since someone has done it before, it is possible for others to follow the suit,” comments Prof. Dr. Renn on the way journalists can also promote this cause, “The media should focus on things that are realistic to invoke people’s curiosity and enthusiasm. It will also be a good idea to shed light on the impact that non-sustainable lifestyle has, in a gentle, yet effective manner.” He adds that it is very important to focus on what can be done today and in the now by breaking down the big issues into smaller pieces; this, the scientist believes, will give everyone a feeling that they can indeed make a difference and follow others doing good.

The Social Sustainability Barometer for German Energiewende proves to be an important knowledge base for future decision processes that shape the energy transition. This is one of the major steps toward devoting greater attention to the social dimension of energy transition and addressing the need for action in this area.


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